Despite the stunned looks on the face of news anchors, I’m really not surprised Great Britain decided to get the frack out of the EU. The original decision to approve the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 was highly controversial in Parliament. Via The Independent:
The Prime Minister had ‘been driven to use the confidence factor’ because he could not win a vote on the Social Chapter in any other way, John Smith, the Labour leader, told the Commons, amid the tumult which followed the Government’s defeat by 324 votes to 316 last night…
The protocol contains Mr [John] Major’s opt-out from the Social Chapter agreed by the other 11 EC states at Maastricht and attached to the treaty. Tory rebels joined with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SDLP and nationalists to defeat the Government by eight votes on a motion which, under the European Communities (Amendment) Act, it needs to win before it can ratify the treaty.
It should also be noted Great Britain never seemed to have a real relationship with the EU anyway, and never accepted the euro as a replacement for the pound. The UK seemed more interested in some of the possible trade benefits of being a part of the EU, and possibly the belief of being more connected to the continent. From Reihan Salam at Slate:
Like most leading figures in the worlds of politics and business, [ex-Prime Minister Tony] Blair favored remaining in the European Union. As prime minister during the 1990s, he often made the case for deeper European integration. More broadly, Blair proved himself to be among the most emphatically cosmopolitan world leaders in recent history. Within the Labour Party, Blair has since been repudiated by a base that fiercely rejects his brand of economic liberalism and will never forgive him for his decision to back the war in Iraq. Both commitments were, in very different ways, a reflection of Blair’s belief in a more internationalist Britain, one that would shed its imperial past and embrace a new one as a multicultural society at home in the world…
In Britain’s less-diverse, pre-Blair past, political conflict was more or less straightforwardly driven by class conflict. The Tories were the party of the rich, the shires, and the aspirational working class, while Labour represented the working class and a thick slice of Britain’s credentialed professionals. Class still matters in post-Blair Britain, but so too does the widening divide between cosmopolitans who embrace Britain’s post-Blair transformation and nationalists who do not. David Cameron has long tried to straddle this divide: The EU referendum’s result is a testament to his failure.
This might be true, but it could also be a generational issue. Bret Bair shared a photo on Facebook on Friday looking at the generational breakdown of the Brexit vote. It’s pretty fascinating in seeing those who grew up pre-EU were massively in favor of Brexit, while those who grew up during EU wanted to stay (a similar battle will be played out in the US, if we ever decide to get rid of TSA). This has led to plenty of handwringing by Pro-EU folks.
Honestly, this is bunk. Britain can still make deals with individual countries on student exchange or travel or whatever. British citizens can still get access to the euro, and use it on the continent. There’s also the fact British businesses (and people) will see plenty of regulations disappear once Brexit is complete. Economic liberalism (pro-free markets) is never a bad thing, and Brexit is probably a step in the right direction. Britons have taken a risk in deciding to leave the EU, which is not a bad thing. Norway has done fine without the EU, and Britain probably will too. Millennials are going to have to learn what it’s like to not be in the EU, and that’s going to cause growing pains. What will be intersecting to see is what the next generation of Britons are like if UK stays on its Brexit course.